Controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., is no stranger to hardball tactics, so he probably isn’t fazed by being on the receiving end of rough politics. Still, that doesn’t excuse the Obama administration’s apparent ideological vendetta against him.
By the (il)logic of the administration and its allies at the American Civil Liberties Union, Sheriff Arpaio should not set up a phone tip line to search for immigration violators, and he is not allowed to tell the public about federal immigration enforcement policies even if he is merely disputing demonstrable falsehoods told about him; yet the Justice Department can set up an anonymous tip line to gather evidence against the sheriff.
Of course, the administration isn’t much worried about consistency. Moral grandstanding is its game, and its intended prize is the scalp of a pestilent sheriff.
Mr. Arpaio is famous as a tough, lock-‘em-up lawman who has housed prisoners in tent cities and even made them wear wimpy pink clothing for identification. What really enrages liberals, however, is his arrest of many thousands of illegal immigrants over the years. In 2008, he was sued, by plaintiffs represented by the ACLU, for purported civil rights violations involving ethnic profiling of Latinos in the county. Among the lawsuit’s allegations was the claim that the “telephonic hot line” he set up to unearth suspected immigration violations was, by its very nature, sure to generate “false, inaccurate and racially motivated reports about Latino residents.”
In March, the Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation against the sheriff. Even though a Department of Homeland Security audit has since found no evidence of ethnic profiling, the Justice Department investigation continues. Meanwhile, officials from both federal departments were caught improperly collaborating with each other in the course of the investigation. Worse, Homeland Security officials accused the sheriff, quite implausibly, of going soft on illegal immigrants - and when the sheriff played audio tapes proving that it was the department that ordered him to let some illegals free, Homeland Security told him he was in violation of a gag order. In short, the administration’s position was that he had no First Amendment right to correct the public record.
At some point earlier this month, the Justice Department set up an anonymous tip line, 877/613-2137, to encourage complaints against the sheriff.
Tip lines to solve specific crimes are a common law enforcement tool, but this one is unusual. “I’ve never seen one directed at a particular entity like the sheriff,” said Robert N. Driscoll, an attorney for Sheriff Arpaio and himself a former deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division. In other words, tip lines are to find an unknown criminal when a crime is discovered, not to find a crime to pin on a specific individual.
Sheriff Arpaio probably can handle just about anything the administration throws at him. The public, however, will suffer if the Justice Department’s dirty tricks are allowed to go unchallenged. Political vendettas should not enjoy the status of legitimate law enforcement.